On Wedesday, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko brought Israeli President Shimon Peres information concerning mass grave sites of Jews murdered during the Holocaust. During a meeting between the two leaders in the President's Residence in Jerusalem, Yushchenko handed Peres a box
with hitherto undiscovered papers concerning the fate of Jewish community leaders and resistance commanders. Peres, who was touched by the gesture, expressed his thanks.
Yushchenko informed Peres of an order he gave the Ukrainian Security Services to locate documents concerning the Jewish community just prior to his visit. "In this box I am giving you there are papers with information on mass graves of Jews and underground operatives which to this day have remained secret," Yushchenko said. "There are also documents concerning interrogations of Jews in that awful time."
The Ukrainian president addresses the Knesset. (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
Peres: Do not underestimate Anti-Semitism
Peres was affected by the unanticipated gesture, but nevertheless brought up the issue of anti-Semitism, which harms Jews throughout Europe. He discussed the particular implications of the phenomenon in the Ukraine. "We must not forget the events of the past, even if they are very difficult," Peres said. "On the other hand, we can maintain good relations with the Ukraine in the future. Ukraine must fight anti-Semitism, which we can not underestimate."
After his meeting in the President's Residence, the Ukrainian guest addressed the Knesset, saying that Ukraine is seeking to foster cooperation with Israel. "We have a common bond, we are like family," he said.
"We had a common enemy- evil, but even in the darkest days, your people showed us how to withstand the worst atrocities. You believed in liberty and your state and have overcome all obstacles," he said before an audience of 50 Members of Knesset. Earlier, Yushchenko was welcomed by a festive ceremony in the Knesset building's Chagall hall.
"In Ukraine there is support for Israel. We have kept in our hearts the pain and sorrow of those victims of the Holocaust. We reject anti-Semitism and xenophobia and will fight this evil that poisons all good things," he said, asserting that Ukraine will stand by Israel. "I am happy that we have begun a true dialogue," Yushchenko said, adding that he viewed it important to "preserve Jewish culture in the Ukraine, which we have always supported."
An inauspicious history
Yad Vashem has informed ynet that these papers will soon make their way to the museum, where they will be combed for new information regarding the history of Ukrainian Jews during the Holocaust. Upon the German invasion of the Soviet Union one June 22, 1941, there were around 2.4 million Jews living within the Ukraine, but the Germans were welcomed hospitably by the Ukrainians, some of whom were even drafted into the German army, police, and SS. In time, the Germans established a separate branch of the SS for Ukrainians.
The local population, with the assistance of the pro-Nazi Ukrainian police, began carrying out pogroms against Jewish Ukrainians in which thousands of Jews were murdered, their property looted and destroyed.
Following the invasion, the Germans began identifying Jews, concentrating them in special areas, and forcing them into slave labor. Several months later, they began with mass killing, shooting and burying victims in mass graves.
One such site was Babi Yar, which later became a symbol of the massacre of Ukraine's Jewish population. It was there, in September 1941, that the Nazis and their Ukrainian collaborators murdered tens of thousands of Jews, 33,771 from Kiev alone.